I met Mel on January 1, 1986.  After 30 years I can say that with certainty because that was the day my parents brought me to live at the Green House at L’Arche Daybreak.  It was a chance meeting because Mel and his housemates had stayed over at the property as they’d been up late welcoming in the new year. When my Father tried to negotiate the driveway in the deep snow he became firmly stuck and the first of the stories I shared with Mel was born.  I am not sure how much Mel actually pushed the truck or if he only directed.  In fact he may have stayed inside and got the facts after but the official story is that my Father got stuck and Mel pushed him out.  The story itself is unimportant.  What is important is that it is the first of many, many mutual stories that Mel loved to tell and repeat when we were together.

Mel was a kind and generous man.  His faithfulness to the Daily Bread food bank is legend but his deep desire to serve the poor did not stop there.  When, after many years the daily trip out to the food bank became too much for his stamina and eyesight Mel quickly started volunteering at Glen Rhode’s food bank and Woodbine Heights food bank.  Mel held countless food drives and every single month he made a personal donation from his bank account to the Daily Bread.  Mel and I used to keep a jar on the desk at Wolverleigh and later in my office.  Once a week all coins less than a quarter were put into that jar and when it was full he would decide which charity he wanted to help. Mel watched the news each night and sometimes, truth be told, he absorbed the news as he slept in his chair and he had an awareness of where the greatest need would be and the money would be sent there.

Mel craved intimacy and touch.  He had a deep affection for animals.  His niece Kathleen tells the story of Mel grooming the horses for exceedingly long times.  The horses were relaxed and peaceful whenever Mel was finished.  I believe that each stroke also calmed Mel and was a balm for his heart.  Over the years I have had a number of dogs.  Mel has come to know each one of them.  Emma, our current beautiful dog is a gentle, quiet soul who dances with excitement and whines with delight when Mel comes to visit her.  She sniffs him all over and then settles beside him with her head on his chest as he places his arm around her and gently strokes her.  In the last days of his life Mel asked to see Mercedes, the therapy dog who had visited him at Greenwood House.  As the dog lay on his bed Mel gently and peacefully stroked her fur.

Mel was an only child.  He felt the death of his Mother very deeply and later that of his Father.  Mel became a member of many of our families. He became a welcome guest at many of our family celebrations and holidays.  He has been to so many of our own family homes.  Mel welcomed our children and loved them with all his heart. He was very proud to be part of the Day Slemon Family and cherished his relationship with Jennifer, Mark, Kathleen, Geoffrey and Michael.  He relished his position as brother and uncle.

When I came to the community it was made clear that Mel was Jewish but that was a reality that was not fully realized.  When attending a friend’s Bat Mitzvah he started to cry.  With great emotion he told us that he wished for his own Bar Mitzvah.  This was a painful reality for his Father who had not pursued this for Mel when he was a young boy.  Mel worked hard.   He had a faithful group of friends who came to help him learn about Judaism and his portion.  One created a tape of the blessings and all at Wolverleigh recited them over and over again each night and on our many trips up and down the Don Valley.  When Mel celebrated his Bar Mitzvah his Father Ben wept with joy .  Mel stood up with pride and took his place as an adult Jewish man.  He made his famous trip to Israel the year his Father died and it was a life changing event for both of them.

Mel could be rather opinionated.

  • He and I both have a passion for the environment and recycling. Mel would put all kinds of things into the bin that were not recyclable simply because they should be.  I have weeded through the bin and taken out light bulbs and hangers and the like many a time because I knew I was never going to win the argument.
  • For many years Mel went to Florida every spring to visit his Father. It was imperative that I remove every cent of Canadian money before he left and every cent of American money when he returned.  Although Mel held the firm opinion that the other country would welcome the different money reality was sometimes a little more heated.
  • Mel was progressive in his thinking. He was sure that the rabbi’s could make a nice ham kosher if they wanted to or that library books taken out in Toronto could be returned in Florida as they had the same system.

Mel was intensely human. He was more than occasionally irreverent and boastful.  He could be gruff and demanding.  He had really, really weird food habits.  He liked to tell crude jokes and reveled in bawdy humour.  Mel had exceptionally good hearing and could be involved in conversations from the basement on a regular basis.

Mel’s illness and death is a profound shock and loss for each of us but I am convinced that Mel embraced the diagnosis and met his death with dignity and courage.   He fully understood what was happening and was part of the decisions that lead to his movement to palliative care.  Once there he asked about countless numbers of friends and assistants he’d come to know over the years wanting them to know that he was dying and that he remembered and loved them.   He spoke over and over of his desire to have a respectable and dignified funeral. I am grateful that I could read and pray the prayers for Mel’s last Shabbot celebration and as we blessed and passed around the Challah I was acutely aware of being in communion with Mel in the purest sense of the word.  I am relieved and grateful that Mel drew his last breaths with two of his dearest friends by his side and that the last words surrounding him were of deep love, affection and prayer.

by Julie Malichen-Snyder